A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on January 24, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images
SpaceX’s satellite-based internet service Starlink is gaining new users at a record pace. Less than a year since Starlink rolled out beta service, more than 100,000 user terminals have been shipped globally, Elon Musk tweeted Monday afternoon.
In an update with the Federal Communications Commission on July 29, SpaceX said it had 90,000 Starlink users in 12 countries. That represented 20,000 new user registrations in a single month since Musk’s last update in June. His tweets this week suggest that Starlink has expanded to two more countries and attracted at least 10,000 new users in August.
“Our license applications are pending in many more countries. Hoping to serve Earth soon!” Musk tweeted Monday.
Now serving 🇺🇸 🇨🇦 🇬🇧 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 🇦🇹 🇳🇱 🇮🇪 🇧🇪 🇨🇭 🇩🇰 🇵🇹 🇳🇿 🇦🇺
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 23, 2021
SpaceX told the FCC in its July update that Starlink had over half a million new orders waiting to be fulfilled.
To date, SpaceX has deployed more than 1,700 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, forming a constellation large enough to beam high-speed internet signals down across the globe, including remote areas where cable and fiber-optic internet is unavailable.
SpaceX ultimately plans to build a constellation of nearly 30,000 satellites—that’s ten times the number of active satellites currently orbiting Earth. The company has the FCC’s green light to launch 12,000 satellites and is applying for broader permission.
In an application for the next-generation Starlink deployment, submitted to the FCC on August 18, SpaceX proposed two new configurations for the constellation, one of which would use the Starship rocket to launch future satellites.
“SpaceX has found ways to leverage the advanced capabilities of its new launch vehicle, Starship, that has increased capability to deliver more mass to orbit quickly and efficiently and, combined with reuse capability of the upper stage, launch more often,” the company said in the application. “Further, Starship allows SpaceX to iterate from its original satellite design and deploy next-generation satellites with more capacity and throughput, providing even further improvements for consumers to its already high-throughput, low-latency service.”
The other configuration would continue using the current setup, which involves a Falcon 9 rocket, for future satellite launches.
SpaceX noted in the application that the Starship configuration was its “preferred scenario.”
Starlink’s beta service costs $99 a month, as well as a $499 upfront fee for a user terminal, which customers can easily install by themselves.
SpaceX has now shipped 100,000 Starlink terminals to customers who’ve signed up for the company’s internet-from-space service.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dropped the news in a tweet on Monday, August 23. It means the company has added 90,000 new customers to its beta service in just six months. The company opened Starlink to its first paying customers in October 2020 and it now serves 12 countries, with more on the way.
Starlink uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to beam down broadband connectivity to customers on the ground using a Starlink dish.
SpaceX has been sending Starlink satellites into orbit since May 2019 and currently has more than 1,700 of them circling Earth.
The goal is to blanket the planet with affordable and reliable broadband connectivity, with a particular focus on communities in remote areas that have little or no access to decent internet services.
Starlink says current download speeds via its service should be around 100 Mbps, though reports online suggest they can be anywhere between 60 Mbps and 150 Mbps.
How to sign up to Starlink
First, you’ll need to find out if Starlink’s beta service is available your area. To do so, simply head to its website and fill in your details. If it’s accessible, you’ll be invited to sign up.
Customers in the U.S. will need to pay $499 for the necessary hardware, and then $99 a month for the internet service. Shipping and handling costs $50, with tax coming in at about $33. You can get the ball rolling by handing over a $99 deposit, and you’ll receive a notification when your order is ready to ship. Note the small print at the bottom of the page: “Depending on location, some orders may take six months or more to fulfill.”
SpaceX isn’t the only company working to provide internet connectivity via Earth-orbiting satellites. U.K.-based OneWeb is also building a constellation, with its most recent batch of satellites heading skyward just a few days ago. With 288 satellites in orbit and more on the way, OneWeb is planning to launch a trial broadband service in Alaska and Canada by the end of this year, with more locations coming in 2022. Amazon has also outlined plans for its Project Kuiper service that could comprise a constellation of some 3,200 satellites, though the company has yet perform any launches.
Next week, SpaceX is scheduled to send another cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) using its recently-upgraded Cargo Dragon uncrewed spacecraft. The exciting launch and eventual docking with the station will be livestreamed by NASA, and we’ve got the details on how you can watch along at home.
What to expect from the launch
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule soars upward after lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2021, during the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station. NASA
This will be the 23rd resupply mission run by SpaceX to the ISS, and it will take off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will use a SpaceX Cargo Dragon launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry supplies for the crew as well as scientific experiments to be performed in the station’s microgravity environment.
The experiments being carried to the station include investigations into whether chemicals from grape skins could treat osteoporosis, a new robotic arm that can be operated from the ground and that could be used on Earth in disaster situations, and several experiments into animals and plants by Girl Scouts.
After spending a day in transit, the Cargo Dragon will arrive at the ISS, where it will dock with the Harmony module automatically, overseen by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur.
How to watch the launch
The launch will take place early in the morning hours of Saturday, August 28, and it will be streamed live on NASA TV. To watch this channel, you can either use the video embedded at the top of this page or head over to NASA’s website.
Coverage of the launch begins at 3:15 a.m. ET (12:15 a.m. PT) on August 28. The launch itself is scheduled for 3:37 a.m. ET (12:37 a.m. PT). The craft will then travel through Earth’s atmosphere and up to the International Space Station over the rest of Saturday.
The Cargo Dragon is scheduled to dock with the space station on Sunday, August 29, and the rendezvous and docking will also be streamed on the same channel. Coverage of this begins at 9:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. PT) on August 29, with the docking scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT).
Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Blue Origin on Thursday scored a small win in its relentless fight for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract. Although the Jeff Bezos-led company hasn’t officially got the job yet, its lawsuit against NASA in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has put the agency’s work with SpaceX on hold.
Last Friday, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, challenging NASA’s decision in April to select SpaceX as the sole contractor of HLS. The lawsuit came after Blue Origin lost an appeal before the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
On Thursday, the court issued the schedule for the suit, which included a “NASA Voluntary Stay of Performance” clause that would result in a roughly three-month pause in NASA’s ongoing work with SpaceX.
“NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday. “In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1.”
In an interview with SpaceNews on Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the case is handled by the Justice Department.
“This is a matter that is out of our hands,” he told the publication. “The judge could require, in essence, very laborious discovery.”
As a result, the dispute will delay NASA’s plan to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024 through the Artemis Program, under which the HLS contract falls.
“NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter,” the agency said in Thursday’s statement.
Blue Origin, SpaceX, and a third firm called Dynetics submitted bids for NASA’s HLS contract in March 2020. Although in the past NASA has awarded multiple contracts for a single project, such as the Commercial Crew Program, this time the agency selected only one contractor, SpaceX, citing budgeting reasons.
According to a report released by the GAO on July 30 responding to Blue Origin’s complaint, NASA had received only $850 million from Congress in fiscal year 2021 for the HLS program, with an additional $96 million from other programs that could fund HLS. Nearly $400 million of that funding was already spent on the “base period” awards NASA gave to Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics in 2020. About $200 million has been reserved for internal costs for the program. That left the agency only $355 million available for new HLS awards in 2021.
NASA has already paid SpaceX $300 million as part of its $2.9 billion sole contract. Nelson said he didn’t know if it was possible to find funding for a second HLS contract to Blue Origin.
Jeff Bezos, owner of Blue Origin, introduces a new lunar landing module called Blue Moon during an event at the Washington Convention Center, May 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
While Blue Origin’s fight to win NASA’s moon lander contract continues, the Jeff Bezos-led space company is losing its top talent to competitors large and small.
On Tuesday, Texas startup Firefly Aerospace announced that it has hired Blue Origin engineer Lauren Lyon as the company’s chief operating officer.
Lyon was a lead systems engineer on Blue Origin’s Advanced Concepts team, helping the company to develop new product ideas and use cases and bring them into reality. Before joining Blue Origin, Lyon was an engineer at SpaceX, holding leadership roles on the Dragon, Falcon 9, and Starlink programs. She was a regular presence on SpaceX’s webcasts, including the Demo-2 commercial crew test flight in May 2020.
Firefly is in the early stage developing a small rocket called Alpha. The company is exploring a business model of selling Alpha’s engines to other customers. As COO, Lyons will “lead the efforts in scaling the company’s infrastructure, production and operations as Firefly moves into commercial production,” Firefly said in a social media post.
Lyon’s departure came just a day after another top Blue Origin engineer jumped ship. Nitin Arora, a mission architecture and integration lead on Blue Origin’s Human Landing System (HLS) National team, announced on his LinkedIn page Monday that he’d left the company to join SpaceX.
Arora joined Blue Origin in 2018 from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to work on the company’s “Blue Moon” lunar lander. The Blue Moon team was rebranded as HLS National team after Blue Origin applied for NASA’s HLS contract.
Blue Origin hasn’t responded to an Observer inquiry about Lyon and Arora’s departure. The company is currently hiring for Lyon’s replacement. In a job posting looking for an “Advanced Concepts Systems Engineer-Advanced Development Programs,” Blue Origin describes the group as “a small, passionate, and accomplished team of experts.”
Yusaku Maezawa and Elon Musk. Yusaku Maezawa/Instagram
Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, who signed up to be SpaceX’s first customer to fly to the moon aboard a Starship spacecraft in 2023, has been looking for a few like-minded space enthusiasts to join him on the voyage—all expenses paid. The search is now in the final stage of screening as the billionaire has narrowed the selection down to just 20 finalists.
Maezawa is the founder of Japanese fast fashion giant Zozotown. An avid art collector, Maezawa limited the search to artists. But the definition is loose. “Every single person who is doing something creative with their lives, aren’t they all artists?…If you see yourself as an artist, then you are an artist,” the entrepreneur said in March when announcing the search, dubbed Project dearMoon.
Four months and more than a million applications later, Maezawa has set his eye on 20 people. “Coming close to the end of the selection process for dearMoon!” he wrote in an Instagram post on July 15.
A YouTube video posted by Maezawa the same day featured a selection of applicants explaining what they hoped to accomplish on the trip. The finalists span a wide range of artistic professions, including painters, dancers, DJs, photographers and even Olympics gold medalists.
“I would consider this to be the most ambitious and probably one of the greatest artistic collaborations ever,” one of the 20 finalists, Vancouver artist Boris Moshenkov, said in an Instagram video last month. “That’s what gives me goosebumps every time I think about the project.”
Tracy Fanara, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who creates space-themed art in her free time, was in the final round.
“I did not sleep for like six weeks going through the process,” Fanara told DailyMail. “Lets just say, going through the process and getting to each step is just crazy. To think you might actually be apart of something so much bigger than yourself.”
These 20 finalists will compete for eight seats on the SpaceX flight. Also flying along will be a few SpaceX employees, making the total crew 10 to 12 people.
The civilian crew will not actually land on the moon, but flying around it. It will take them three day to reach the moon, less than one day to loop around it, and three days to return to Earth.
Maezawa signed up to be SpaceX’s first moon passenger in September 2018 and reportedly put down a hefty deposit. He is expected to fly in a Starship spacecraft, which is being tested to reach Earth’s orbit, atop a yet-to-be-built Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) booster.
Jeff Bezos introduces Blue Origin’s lunar lander “Blue Moon” at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin has escalated its dispute with NASA over the agency’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract to a federal court after losing a case before the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Blue Origin was one of the three private firms competing for a NASA contract to build a human landing vehicle on the moon. In April, NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX and selected the Elon Musk-led company as the sole partner for the HLS project. Blue Origin’s proposal, estimated to cost $5.9 billion, along with a similarly expensive bid by Dynetics, were rejected.
On Friday, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to challenge “NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals” submitted during the bidding process, said lawyers for Blue Origin, The Verge first reported.
The lawsuit came after Blue Origin and Dynetics failed to challenge NASA’s decision before the federal watchdog, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which ruled earlier this month that NASA had run a fair competition.
“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Observer. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the moon for America.”
Still, it’s an ironic contrast to what Bezos said about bidding wars for NASA contracts just three years ago.
At a talk during the JFK Space Summit in 2019, Bezos openly criticized bid protests as a barrier slowing down NASA’s space exploration efforts. Comparing today’s contracting process with the more streamlined system in the 1960s, he said, “Today, there would be three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win.”
A NASA spokesperson said the agency is “currently reviewing details of the case.”
Also on Friday, Blue Origin lost a top engineer on its moon lander team to its worst enemy. The company’s HLS Mission Architecture and Integration Lead, Nitin Arora, announced on his LinkedIn page on Monday that he had left Blue Origin to join SpaceX. His last day was Friday.
Arora was a former engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He joined Blue Origin in 2018 to work on the company’s “Blue Moon” lunar lander. “It was one hell of a ride working on the lunar program. Really honored that I got a chance to work with and lead incredibly smart, passionate people over [the] last three years,” Arora wrote in a LinkedIn post on Monday.